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Muslim Surnames [Jun. 29th, 2007|10:39 am]
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Our neighbour from two doors down- the one who gave us the planter- is known to us as Mrs Bibi. There are lots of Mrs Bibis in this part of the world. 

Bibi is an honorific not a surname.  Benazir Bibi means something like Miss Benazir.  

So for a person to be called Mrs Bibi is a nonsense. Somewhere back down the line an uncomprehending official made a silly mistake.  

Why does our neighbour stand for it?  I've been researching Muslim surnames all morning and getting more and more confused. There seem to be no fixed conventions. If I understand my sources correctly, the purest tradition- the one that goes back to the prophet- is for everyone- male and female- to have a personal name followed by the name of his or her father. It's a system of labelling that guards against inadvertent incest- and very sensible too.  Ahmed's son is called Muktar Ahmed and Muktar's son is called Hanif Muktar and so on.  But in reality things are far more complicated- and practice varies from place to place and clan to clan. One thing that emerges fairly clearly is that the surname as westerners understand it-  a badge of identity, honour and pride that passes down the family from generation to generation- just doesn't exist in Islamic cultures. 

And I suppose that's why my neighbour isn't bothered. You want two names to put on your form? Here they are- Benazir Bibi. And if you choose to interpret the second as a surname who cares?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-29 02:51 pm (UTC)

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One thing that's fairly clear is that the surname as westerners understand it- a badge of identity, honour and pride that passes down the family from generation to generation- just doesn't exist.

I think this is probably true of most of world's population. But as you've noted, it's surprisingly difficult to wrap your brain around if you're used to last names. The other thing that made me go "Huh?" when I lived in Japan was the idea of not naming streets, but naming blocks. And giving houses numbers as they are built, not in consecutive order.
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-29 03:37 pm (UTC)

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I spent several hours researching and thinking about this post. At first I was having real difficulty understanding how my neighbour could stand for being saddled with such a ridiculous surname- and then it dawned on me- she just doesn't care.

[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-29 03:40 pm (UTC)

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Right. She doesn't have the baggage of association with "surname" that you (and I) do.

Don't you run into a similar problem in Finland? Is Finland Western?
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-29 04:01 pm (UTC)

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I know nothing about Finland. Is it like Iceland where the sons take the father's name plus "son" and the daughters take the mother's name plus "dottir"?

I suppose these northern European nations differ from most of the rest of Europe in never having come under the rule or influence of Rome.
[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-29 04:27 pm (UTC)

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Sorry, I thought "Iceland", but wrote Finland--that's what I was thinking of, the 'son' and 'dottir' names.

I think "western" is a kind of sloppy term. I mean, the US isn't Western in that sense, either. (Having never been under the rule or influence of Rome.) But I suppose I have moved the subject.

Back to Ozu--one of the things that I was trying to say diplomatically and failing is that I think you bring a lot of Western associations and judgments to your understanding of Ozu, without necessarily being able to get your mind around the nonwestern view of things. I found it quite interesting, because you are so confident in your assumptions.
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-29 05:20 pm (UTC)

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Yes, "western" is sloppy- It includes nations like Australia which are geographically eastern. And where does European Russia stand now that the Eastern bloc is a thing of the past?

Back to Ozu. His Japan reminds me forcibly of the England of the 50s and 60s- another traditional culture in the process of coming to terms with an American "invasion". So I read my own experience into the movies and, yes, I'm probably missing and misinterpreting all sorts of things. Does this matter? It seems to me that Ozu belongs to the world- just as Shakespeare does- and is open to all sorts of readings- including "foreign" ones.

If I seem confident it may be because I make a point of going through my posts and crossing out the "maybes" and "perhapses". I think this makes them livelier and more likely to provoke debate.
[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-30 02:27 am (UTC)

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So I read my own experience into the movies and, yes, I'm probably missing and misinterpreting all sorts of things. Does this matter?

I don't know. When I was teaching, I would have say yes, because I want my students to be able to get into his head.

But I'm not your teacher (obviously), and your interpretation is so coherent, that perhaps Ozu does belong to the world.

Yes, you're right about crossing out the maybes and perhpases.:) I have to do this in e-mail all the time.
[User Picture]From: ibid
2007-06-30 10:46 am (UTC)

Nordic surnames.

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According to a very brief websearch Finns did not have to choose permanant surnames until the 1920s. Until then people were associated more with places or family homes, hence lots of Finns have the suffix la or nen on their family eg Mattila or Mattinen - indicating they were from 'Matti's place'. Lots of Finns also have names relating to nature such as Niemi or Oja.
A lot of Finns had Swedish surnames and during the nationalist period either fennicised their names (eg Alexis Stein became Aleksis Kivi) or they operated under two names. In 'Under the north star' the main charactor Jussi is known as both Anttisson and Koskola but with the old vicar uses Anttisson while the new vicar's wife, a staunch nationalist, insists on using Koskola.

About 90% of Danish surnames have 'sen' at the end (eg Andersen) because it was from the older patrymonic system. It seems a bit daft to apply this to women too but there we go, some Swedish friends of ours tried to add 'Kirtsdottir' as a middle name to their child but they had horrid problems with it!

I belience some Icelandic feminists use matrymonics instead of the father's name!
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-30 10:58 am (UTC)

Re: Nordic surnames.

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That's interesting.

I've always wondered how we got stuck with our fixed surnames. I suppose it had something to do with the rise of bureaucracy and the keeping of written records.

It would be nice to have the freedom to choose one's own surname. I know one can change by deed poll- but that's a hassle. I wonder what I'd choose. Johnson is a possibility, Oldham is another. Would a different surname make me a different person. I think it might...
[User Picture]From: ibid
2007-07-01 10:08 am (UTC)

Re: Nordic surnames.

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I believe some parents choose unique surnames for their children. I think though this could really only be viable in a society like ours which is very individualistic. For the most part I think that the sense of belonging indicated by a name - be it 'son/daughter of' or the family name - is extremely important. I know I like belonging to the Oliver family so I am happy to have the name and wouldn't change it - certainly not if I married.

Have you read 'the book of Fathers'? The charactors in that change their names depending on what family they belong to in any period, it's a good read.
[User Picture]From: elfwreck
2007-07-01 06:20 pm (UTC)

unique surnames.

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My children have unique surnames, different from mine and their fathers. (My oldest's father died when she was two.)

So I'm part of a family of four, with four different surnames. We drive the school officials crazy.
[User Picture]From: ibid
2007-07-02 12:16 pm (UTC)

Re: unique surnames.

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Anything that's bad for officialdom is good!
[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2007-06-29 05:08 pm (UTC)

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Some of the most ardent Welsh nationalists are abandoning surnames and returning to the system of using "ap" (son of) and the father's name. So if Dafydd ap Gwilym has a son called Aled, he'll be known as Aled ap Dafydd and so on. I haven't noticed it causing any problems.
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-29 05:28 pm (UTC)

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That's interesting. And why not? Our English surnames have become largely meaningless. There was a time when John Smith was a big, muscly guy who worked in a forge and Mary Baker wore a big apron and had flour dust in her hair- but not any more.
[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-06-29 05:20 pm (UTC)

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Interesting.

We have endless problems with Manolo´s surnameS here in the US because in Spain everyone receives two surnames upon birth, the father´s first surname in first place and the mother´s first surname in second place (women do not change their surnames when they marry and it is illegal to do so). Here they will always look at his second surname first since it is in last place no matter how well we explain that no, Morillo is not a middle name but his first surname.

Oh...if a child has no father who will take legal responsibility for them upon birth, they are registered with the mother´s two last names.
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-29 05:34 pm (UTC)

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So when a Spaniard appears in public using a single surname is it his first or second surname he's most likely to use? Rafael Nadal, for instance: is Nadal his father's name or his mother's name?

And would a Spanish woman make the same choice?

[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-06-29 10:02 pm (UTC)

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Nadal would be his father's first surname under normal circumstances.
Artists or actors have been known to use their mother's surname for artistic purposes but that's not legal.

Yes, Spanish women would have to use the same sequence of last names as a man.

It's always father's first surname first, mother's first surname second. This obviously favours the male lineage.

One CAN legally change the sequence by going to court.